A 'Dream Come True' : Mental Health Center Bridges Asian Cultures

April 24, 1986|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

From the outset, Gladys Lee envisioned a mental health center that would serve the entire Asian community in the San Gabriel Valley, from Chinese to Vietnamese to Filipino. Too often, Lee thought, the distinctions between Asian subgroups were forgotten by non-Asians, who seemed to paint the differing cultures with a broad brush.

Last week, culminating two years of planning and hard work by several community groups and individuals, Lee cut the ceremonial ribbon marking the official opening of the Asian/Pacific Family Center.

Lee, director of the center, called the mental health facility a "dream come true for the Asian community in this valley."

She said the center, at 3907 N. Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead, fills a need created by the steady influx of Asian immigrants who have changed the complexion of cities such as Monterey Park, Alhambra, South Pasadena and Arcadia. Once here, these newcomers often encounter serious emotional and adjustment problems, she said.

The family center, funded by the county Department of Mental Health and a division of the Pasadena Guidance Clinics, actually opened in February with a staff of mental health professionals representing a broad spectrum of Asian languages and cultures.

Cantonese, Mandarin, Toishan, Chiu-Chow, Korean, Japanese, Tagalog, Taiwanese, Vietnamese and English are spoken by members of the center's team of doctors, psychologists, therapists, nurses and social workers.

Non-Traditional Approach

Lee said the center, with a "country-home" setting, complete with couches and hardwood floors, and a non-traditional approach, is designed to help overcome a reluctance among Asians to seek professional help.

"Asians traditionally regard mental illness as a sign of bad luck, as punishment from the gods, the spirits," said Lee, a licensed clinical social worker. "The stigma against seeking help is much stronger than in the general population.

"One thing we've found is that personal relationships are very important. This is a pleasant, non-clinical atmosphere with lots of trees and a courtyard," she said. "We serve them tea and try to make them feel very comfortable. When someone misses an appointment, we make home visits to find out why. All this helps cut the barrier."

Lee said the wariness seemed to be strongest among Vietnamese, who have experienced particular problems adjusting to a new language and culture. Several Vietnamese boys who have run away from home or have contemplated suicide have been referred to the center by school officials.

"Somehow, the stigma against seeking professional help is even stronger among Vietnamese," Lee said. "My rationale for that is that they're the newest immigrant group."

Two Discussion Groups

Julie Hadden, dean of students at Mark Keppel High School who attended the open house, said two campus interracial discussion groups organized by the center have been extremely well received.

"We have 20 students in each group," Hadden said. "After two weeks, the kids are finding out that they're a lot more alike than they thought they were."

Stephen Kornfeld, dean of boys at San Gabriel High School, said he already has referred several Vietnamese students to the center.

"The biggest problem is getting the student and his family to come here once we've referred them," Kornfeld said. "Getting them here has to be our next big push."

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